Saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

June 14, 2011 by  
Filed under Features

The most tragic and shocking fact is that if nothing is done to increase the numbers of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, this bird could be extinct within the next decade. It is the harsh reality of loss of habitat, migration patterns and the fact that people set out traps to catch bigger birds and accidently trap these extremely endangered birds. With the last survey done along the Russian Arctic coast in 2009, it was estimated that there were between a hundred and twenty to two hundred breeding pairs remaining. But with them being so difficult to spot, it is feared that the number could be as low as sixty, which is alarming.

In 1758, Carl Linnaeus described the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, with its most distinctive feature being its bill that is spoon shaped. It is a very shy wading bird that is located in the Chukotka Region of Russia, but during winter they migrate to countries such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, taking on eight thousand kilometer journeys to find the warmth of summer. They have also been seen in China, Japan, Thailand and North Korea.

Fully grown, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper is a mere fourteen to sixteen centimeters, with a reddish brown head, and featuring dark brown streaks over its breast and neck. Conservationists estimate that the Spoon-billed Sandpiper population declines by approximately a quarter every year, and therefore a dedicated team has joined forces to establish a project that will assist in increasing the population. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, along with Birds Russia, will be leading the team and working closely with a variety of organizations, such as the Moscow Zoo and RSPB, to make the project work. They are hoping to either capture a few breeding pairs of Spoon-billed Sandpipers to breed in captivity, and then release back into the wild, or find eggs which will be incubated at the Moscow Zoo, after which the chicks will be transported to Gloucestershire to be raised until they are old enough for release.

The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust is organizing fundraising events for the project, as well as creating public awareness regarding the plight of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper. While raising awareness, hunters will be given compensation if they are prepared to take down their nets, as well as given compensation for every live Spoon-billed Sandpiper they release. It will be the first time that conservationists will attempt to breed these birds in captivity, and if they are successful, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper might stand a fighting chance of avoiding extinction.

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